I switch between my Mac and Windows PC many times in the course of a day, and I use the same keyboard and mouse between them. I previously talked about how I do this using a simple and inexpensive USB switch, so check that out if you’re interested.
But a problem arises with mouse and keyboard shortcuts due to the way macOS and Windows have different modifier keys for the same actions, even in applications that are cross-platform.
I’m going to cover several ways you can share a mouse and keyboard between macOS and Windows and still be able to use various shortcut keys, including the technique that I use that doesn’t require constantly changing key mappings on the mouse or installing clunky profile switching software.
Now first, many device makers do offer software that helps you create shortcuts or macros. But I hate using them. Razer mice have the Synapse software that I find to be extremely bloated to use, and Logitech’s is a bit better, but I try to avoid it where possible.
The benefit of such software is that you get much more control over the actions you can perform with a mouse button, including complicated macros. If you want to use such things, then there might be no choice but to install this kind of software.
Third Party Software
Besides the manufacturer provided software, another way you can change mouse functions and create shortcut commands is through third-party software. On Mac, SteerMouse or USB Overdrive have been popular options that let you do some unique things, including modifying the mouse acceleration curve. I’ve tried these in the past, but they still require software to be loaded and running. Also, they aren’t fully free, so it is an extra cost.
If we want to have configurable hotkeys without using software, then we’ll have to rely on the 3rd method: onboard memory. Mice with onboard memory let you store shortcuts on the mouse itself, so no matter which computer you take it to, it will result in the same action when a button is pressed.
There are some limitations to this, however, as you can’t do complicated macros, and certain keys, such as the Windows key, can’t be stored in onboard memory. In addition, not all mice support onboard memory, but those that do either have a single onboard memory profile or sometimes up to 5 memory profiles.
Onboard Memory with Modifier Key Mappings
So the technique I prefer to use is a combination of onboard memory along with modifier key mappings. First, I find the common shortcuts that I need between Windows and Mac. Often, I will use the same application, like a web browser on both operating systems. However, even in that case, the actual shortcut is not quite the same, so what I’m looking for is a shortcut that differs only by modifier keys, which is usually Control vs. Command or sometimes Alt and Option.
For example, Copy and Paste on Windows is Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V. On Mac, it’s Command + C and Command + V. A more practical one that I use frequently is closing a browser tab, which is Ctrl + W on Windows, but Command + W on Mac.
Once I’ve found the shortcuts I want, I then use the onboard memory editor to assign the Windows versions of these shortcuts to the mouse’s onboard memory. For Logitech, they have the standalone Logitech Onboard Memory Manager app, which is nice since you don’t need to install the mouse software. Unfortunately for Razer, you might have to install the Synapse software to change the mouse mappings and apply them to the onboard memory. But once you’re done, you can disable the software to keep it from running.
Now, the last step after setting the Windows version of the shortcuts on the mouse’s onboard memory is to get them working on Mac. Remember that for shortcuts where the modifier keys are different, they won’t work just yet. But we can open up System Settings, and then go to Keyboard (yes, Keyboard, not mouse). Here, click on Keyboard Shortcuts, and then all the way at the bottom is the Modifier Keys section.
Next, ensure you have the mouse selected in the section that says “Select keyboard”. If you happen to have the generic “USB Receiver” as the name like is common with Logitech mice, then you might need to do some trial and error to figure out which one is your mouse and which is your keyboard.
What you’ll do here is essentially switch the mapping of the modifier shortcut keys that you plan to use. For example, if you stored a bunch of shortcuts using the Control modifier key on Windows, but now those need to use the Command key instead, then on the Control key mapping, assign it to the Command key. That way, the Command action will be used when you press those shortcuts on your mouse. So do this depending on which shortcut modifier keys you decided to map between Windows and Mac.
And that’s how I have my shortcuts set up to function the same when I switch my mouse between my Mac and Windows PC.
Mouse Back and Forward on Mac
But there is one more thing. The back and forward buttons on your mouse may not work the way you want to them to on Mac apps like Finder or Safari if you don’t have the manufacturer’s software running. If you press mouse back or forward, it might work in cross-platform browsers like Firefox or Chrome, but the shortcut keys that Mac uses for back and forward are Command + [ and ]. Unfortunately, Windows doesn’t use Ctrl + [ and ] for back and forward, so assigning that as the shortcut on your mouse won’t work in both environments.
To make it so back and forward work universally across Windows and Mac, you can leave them as the mouse back and forward actions, and then there are several options. First, you could use the manufacturer’s software, but I find those too bulky as explained previously. Second, if you aren’t completely averse to Third-party software, you can install a lightweight tool like Sane Side Buttons or LinearMouse.
I’ve been using LinearMouse, which also has other useful options like changing the scrolling mode from accelerated to number of lines, customizing or disabling mouse acceleration, and of course, enabling universal back and forward, which converts the mouse back and forward buttons into gestures that will then work in Apple apps like Safari and Finder.
I find LinearMouse light and useful enough to run at all times, and it’s free. Unfortunately, just like disabling mouse acceleration until recently, this is another thing Apple doesn’t let you do easily if you don’t want to install any software. Maybe it’ll take them another decade or two for them to have macOS support mice with back and forward buttons out of the box.